One day when I was truly missing my grandchildren I marked milestone days on my calendar. Today is 500 days since I left America and began this Peace Corps Indonesia adventure. (There are 810 total.) So I thought I’d write about what today is like, just to give you a little slice of my life.
First of all it’s Wednesday. This semester I don’t teach on Wednesdays or Saturdays. I got to arrange my own schedule and I crammed massive amounts of teaching into the other days so I could have these days to do all the other things I do. Wednesdays I teach English Club to students and Saturdays I spend several hours trying figuring out what I will teach next week and making copies and discussing with my co-teachers what they need to cover and what part they will play in my games, songs, stories and presentations. I also use my “days off” to go to the school supply store, the Post Office, the bank, do laundry and schedule any thing else, like last semester when Angela and I taught English at a hospital near her home and also when I gave English lessons at the little elementary school near my home.
Today, 27 July 2011, we are celebrating 17 August 2011. Every August 17th is Indonesia National Independence Day but because it falls during Ramadan my town decided to celebrate today. For Ramadan this year people where I live fast from food and drink from 4:09 am till 5:35 pm – well it varies a little each day – I just looked it up on my Islamic calendar to confirm the times. So any parties or celebrations need to be held before or after Ramadan. Yesterday I was told that today at 1:00 pm my students will be marching in a parade to celebrate Indonesian Independence Day.
This morning I woke up at 4:16 which is the current time when loudspeakers begin the call to prayer. I was having a dream about eating sliced potatoes out of a jar and when I looked inside there was a little snake looking at me. I take malaria medicine weekly and it has a tendency to make dreams a little more vivid. (That’s putting it mildly.)
I got dressed in below the knee pants and a T shirt and waved to my ibu-mama who was already outside starting the fire to heat water and beginning to cook the rice for today, then I went outside and put on the shoes that my daughter left me. My own Keens were completely worn out with no tread on the soles and I was using string for shoelaces, so after we hiked up Mt. Rinjani I left them for recycling in the little hotel where we stayed. My daughter and I have the same size feet.
I looked at the new school shoes that my friend Corky sent me. Two pairs!!! Such a wonderful thing!!! Women’s size 10 narrow and they both fit! When I opened up the package from America last week I knew that I needed to show my host family because we keep all our shoes near the front door (because no one wears shoes inside a house) and they would surely notice 2 new pairs of black flat shoes. So I carefully explained how my feet always get “sick” and showed them the current blisters and sores and told them how my friend in America had sent me these wonderful new shoes. My host father immediately reached for them and tried them on. I pointed out to him that they were way too big for him and he sadly agreed. I still don’t understand all the cultural ins and outs of living here. I have learned that I need to open packages from home alone in my room because people ask for (or simply take) what they want! I figure I will leave behind almost everything I have and I selfishly want to use these things during the 310 days I have left.
I walked in my neighborhood till 6:00 am saying “Mongo” (Javanese) to the older people and Selamat Pagi (Indonesian) to more middle aged people and Good Morning to kids that I think can understand a little English. They always beam when they understand and if they don’t then I switch to a different language. It was so cool (relatively) and nice. I love mornings. I saw a “Christmas” decoration – blinking red, white and green lights strung around a tree trunk in front of a home. Then it dawned on me what it was – red and white lights to signify the Indonesian flag! It was a national pride symbol not a Christmas symbol!
When I got home I took a mandi splash bath pouring dippers of cold water over my head. Then my ibu-mama said breakfast was ready and I sat on the sofa next to the dining room table where the food is displayed under big plastic fly protection covers. There was noodle soup with spinach and carrots and white rice and chunks of fried tempeh (chunky soybean squares) and some fruit that looks like cherries but the skins are inedible and they taste like grapes with big pits in the middle and water. I always drink water at this home. It was much easier to just tell my new family that I don’t like coffee or tea. Hot drinks with tons of sugar are the norm in Indonesia.
I took my dirty clothes into the front bathroom, sat on a 6 inch tall stool and made several basins of soapy water and rinse water and washed my clothes by hand. I always try to wring them out pretty good – they dry faster if you squeeze out as much water as you can. I hung them out on the clothes line in our side yard. Baby chickens were walking around my feet, so I try to be careful where I step – to avoid the chickens and their droppings.
I got a text message from another Peace Corps volunteer asking if I was going to the regional meeting for English teachers today. I responded, “No, no one asked me to come :/ ” The problem is that Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to ride on motorcycles and very few people at my school have a car. The vice principal who has a car will probably go to this meeting but he lives a half hour away in the wrong direction.
I logged on to the computer in my room and read email from another volunteer, Maggie, who wants to do a Ramadan in America project so that Muslims there can share their experience with Muslims here. I also did some checking on my own project – visiting a turtle sanctuary at a National Park here on the island of Java during our vacation time the first week in Sept. when Ramadan is finished. There may be a group of us who will go there together. I use almost a fourth of my monthly allowance on “communication” – cell phone minutes, modum and internet cable into my house. But it is sooooo worth it. Because next I skyped with my grandkids in America. Yes! I got to see and talk to them and their parents for “free.” They told me that they don’t want me to wear glasses because I don’t look like the same grandma. My 5 year old grandson told me that he wants to invent a spray that you squirt into people’s eyes and then they can see better!
Then I took out my stash of recycled cardboard containers and cut them all apart to make some sturdy cards that will last through 16 different times when I use them for different school classes. My plan is based on the information I got from Maggie. I will have 20 different “question cards” and students can select one they want. They need to answer:
What does Ramadan mean to you? Why do you fast? Describe what happens on a typical fast day. Do you have any special customs, traditions or activities that you do before or after you fast? Describe the first time you fasted – how old were you? What is important to you about being a Muslim? How does your religion impact your daily life? What do you like best about Ramadan, etc.
That’s my plan. I need to get these translated so the students can understand what I am asking for and develop an English-Indonesian vocabulary list to help them with their answers. If I can get my co-teachers to agree to this then I’ll have a start on an activity I can use during Ramadan when class periods are reduced to 20 minutes for 1 “jam” (hour) and 40 minutes for 2 jam.
Now it’s 11:30. Half of my laundry is dry. I just brought it in. Because there are no clothes driers here, clothes get a little misshapen. My socks are 16 inches from toe to heel. If I am going through a particularly itchy period in my life, then I iron all my clothes to kill any bugs that may be in them, bur right now I don’t feel too itchy so I’m not going to iron everything, just the stuff I have to wear to school.
Lunch was fried pond fish tails (as opposed to ocean fish or catfish) served with cut up cucumbers, tomatoes and soy sauce, white rice, left over cold noodles and spinach and fresh papaya (maybe from the tree I can see in my yard, which has a lot of ripe papaya on it right now) and water to drink.
The day is becoming overcast. Because it’s a little cooler when there are clouds, I think I’ll go join my students marching for the Independence Day parade.
Later – My body is so sore! I walked for 45 minutes to the Green Park assembly point, waited about a half hour for the program to start, then marched with the students till 5:00 pm, then walked back home – another 45 minutes. The students did great! I marched with grade 11 Religion class because they gave me a ribbon that matched all of theirs. In my school when students enter grade 11 they need to choose between 3 tracts – Social, for average students; Science, for students who want to go to a University and Religion, for students who want to become religion teachers. (Four of the eighteen subjects that they study are religion subjects so there is a need for a lot of religion teachers.) Teachers and students with first aid kits drove among the marchers on motor cycles and passed out water when there was a lull in the marching. My school had 12 different groups of marchers – 21 students in formation with a lead student at the front right and a 2nd in command at the back right. I was the only teacher marching in the whole parade. I waved and spoke to people along the route. The students had to concentrate on the marching. They told me the route is 5 km (3.1 miles)long.
At the end of the program the students sat on the ground, drank water and ate a brown paper folded meal of rice and chicken and vegetables. I took mine home and gave it to my family. I took another mandi bath and ate what was still on the table from lunch, except this time I ate the fish head instead of the fish tail.
Then I laid on my bed and played Sudoku on my cell phone for about 20 minutes and realized I was way too tired to do anything else and went to sleep. I woke up dreaming that I had swapped bodies with a woman in Minneapolis named Margo who sold Real Estate. I was worried that she wouldn’t know how to speak Indonesian and use the squat toilet and find her way around in my life.